Thousands of families are without shelter after heavy flooding hit central Somalia.About 1,500 families have fled their homes in the past two days after the Shabelle River burst its banks and flooded parts of the town of Beletweyne, in the south-central Hiiraan region. "Many are staying with other families on higher ground," said Hamud Ali Jiliow, a local elder.At least 1,000 families are still marooned in their homes."We are using canoes to reach them,” he told United Nations news service, Reuters. The only help people are getting "is from one another,” he added. With the river level still rising, fears of more flooding and renewed fighting are keeping people away.
Much of east African country has had normal levels of rain, during the Gu long rains, which stretch from April to June. But downpours in neighbouring Ethiopia have swelled the rivers downstream in Somalia leading to flooding. "Shabelle River levels have increased drastically over the last few days, said the Somalia Water and Land Information Management (SWALIM) of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). “There is therefore a likelihood of high risk of flooding in the lower reaches of Shabelle in the coming week," SWALIM reported, adding that "this may however be worsened by weak river embankments along the Shabelle River".
Fears of major clashes in Beletweyne are also fuelling a "quiet exodus" from the town. People are leaving their homes in Hawo Tako and Kooshin districts, to the east of the town, near the lines separating pro-government forces and the Islamist fighters that control the town. "They are worried and afraid that they may get caught in the crossfire once again,” a resident told the news service. He said the Islamist insurgent group, Hisbul Islam, which controls the town, were not letting people to move out. "They don’t want the neighbourhoods to be emptied and allow the government forces a foothold, so they are telling people to stay put. The pro-government forces are about 20km away from the town,” he said. "Everybody is waiting for the fighting to start any day. Only the heavy rains have saved us so far but as soon as the rains subside, there will be clashes, no question about it."
Somalia has been without an effective central government since President Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991. Years of fighting between rival warlords and failure to tackle famine and disease have led to up to one million deaths.
Government forces and insurgents have swapped control of Beletweyne about four times since 2009.